Empower - The Campaign for Northeastern University


MIE department Special Seminar: Topic: Leveraging uncertainty to realize sustainable Engineering Systems: Case Studies across three Industries, by Dr. Randolph Kirchain

Abstract: Making strategic technology decisions – whether they be about materials, processes, or architecture – for today’s complex products and systems is a challenging task. Technologies evolve; markets change; supply chains shift. In such a context, evaluating the strategic characteristics of a technology such as its economic and environmental performance is fraught with uncertainty. Unfortunately, still today, many engineering and technical decision makers do not explicitly consider uncertainty in their decisions, relying instead on intuition or conservative rules of thumb. Such approaches can be both economically and environmentally costly. This talk will explore three distinct sustainability-related cases involving light metals recycling, bio-fuels production, and environmentally conscious design of electronics. In each of these cases, decision makers must confront significant sources of variability or uncertainty. Application of modern optimization or simulation methods to these cases have identified solutions which are both better in terms of environmental and economic performance. This presentation will describe the basic approaches to embed consideration of uncertainty into these decision contexts, the contextual characteristics which amplify the need for such approaches, and the important remaining research gaps for such decisions.


Brief Bio: Dr. Kirchain's research and teaching aim to improve materials-technology decisions by characterizing the economic and environmental impact of those decisions. That impact may derive from changes in the performance of the products into which those materials are transformed and/or in the systems in which they are produced, used, and eventually discarded. Dr. Kirchain's research specifically deals with the development of methods to estimate both 1) life cycle economics and 2) materials system sustainability - particularly resource efficiency and life cycle environmental impact – at the earliest stages of development. These methods have been applied to a range of cases dealing with materials choice in the automotive, electronics, infrastructure, and construction industries. Dr. Kirchain has authored over 100 publications in refereed journals and conferences. He has been awarded the American Iron and Steel Institute’s Top Technical Achievement Award, the General Motors Technical Achievement Award, and the TMS Recycling Technology Award.

Monday, May 12, 2014 at 10:30am to 12:00pm

Curry Student Center, 348
346 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, Boston

Event Type



COE, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

Google Calendar iCal Outlook

Recent Activity